Generalist Ink, Danbury, CT, 2012, English
Nonfiction, Product/Industrial Design
8.25 x 10 inches, 130 lb. paper cover with flaps Smythe-sewn lay-flat binding, 200 pages
Suggested Retail Price: $50.00

Niels Diffrient’s memoir detailing his career and life. Diffrient describes the book as “a dynamic communication product that avoids typical book limitations. In this design, all 268 illustrations are connected directly to the text at the point of their mention with captions that extend the topics. Applying the same intensity of usability as I do with all product design, my objective was to create a reading experience much like life—engaging both the intellect and the senses.”

On 2 book lists
Phil Patton

Niels Diffrient, the master of design that fits the user, has written a book that fits his character. Best known for his ergonomic research and precepts, Diffrient is a modernist monument as much as Dieter Rams—he even looks like Rams.

Personal more than prescriptive, the book is heavily illustrated and full of fun anecdotes—including how Diffrient, while working on interiors for TWA, ran into Howard Hughes with Jane Russell beside him in his convertible.

Growing up in Detroit and dabbling in car design, Diffrient took many career turns before he became the master of ergonomics. He was born in 1928 in the small town of Star, Mississippi. The family soon moved to Detroit; his father worked on an assembly line and Diffrient never forgot it. He managed to find himself at Cranbrook Academy. He spent five years in the office of Eero Saarinen. By 1954, thanks to a Fulbright scholarship, he was in Italy, imbibing the high period of Italian modern design and learning from the likes of Marco Zanuso, with whom he collaborated on the Borletti sewing machine.

He spent a quarter of a century working with Henry Dreyfuss, as a designer and partner, during which time Diffrient was able to codify the Dreyfuss office’s early research in practical guides to ergonomics. Later, with his own company, Humanscale, he put these principles into practice with the design of office chairs. His years at Dreyfuss provided Diffrient with some of his best stories—how, for instance, for American Airlines he designed an inflight passenger lounge to be installed on the quick. He also worked on ideas for the never-built American rival to the supersonic Concorde, called the SST.

In Diffrient’s memoir, his work makes for useful case studies but also a lively personal narrative.

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